A video made for the Museum of Cluny, and its “The Sword: Uses, Myths and Symbols” exhibit. It tries to dispel some of the beliefs that are still prevalent today about the weight and mobility of fighters in plate armor and show some of the techniques used in combat against armored opponents
I’m always pleased to see videos like this. It’s as if people won’t believe unless they’re shown (and there are always some who go “ah, yes, well, in aluminium stage armour it’s easy.”)
Well, the Museum Cluny video, like the Royal Armoury demo team, uses real steel armour: those two pictures at the start show the originals; the video uses reproductions because no curator will let someone take two exhibits from his museum and roll them around on flagstones. Mike Loades in the UK has been doing similar armour demonstrations for years, as has Tobias Capwell of the Wallace Collection. Eventually the old “clunky, immobile, in with a wrench, out with a can-opener” image of plate armour will go away – but I won’t hold my breath. (That shade of purple isn’t a good complexion anyway…)
Even the faster demonstrations of these combat techniques are still dialled back to about half speed. Try to visualise how much quicker and more brutal this would be if the two fighters meant business, when the first rule was Do It To Him As Quickly As Possible Before He Does It To You.
Writer and swordsman Guy Windsor writes about doing motion-capture work for a computer game; his completely authentic techniques couldn’t be used because they were so small, fast and economical. The game needed big swashing movements because the real thing looked unrealistic, too insignificant to be effective…
You won’t see a “killing fight” (full speed, full power, full intent) recreated very often, either on documentaries or in museum exhibitions, because it’s very, very dangerous for (when you think about it) obvious reasons. These techniques from 600-year-old fight manuals were how men in armour maimed and killed other men in armour - and since they’re the original material, not a re-interpretation after 600 years of being diluted down to sport-safe levels, the techniques will still maim and kill men in armour. Even a blunt “safe” sword is pointed enough (first demo on the video, 1:54-59) to go into a helmet’s eye-slot and through the skull inside…
But if you’re lucky enough to see a full-speed demo between fighters in real armour using wasters (wooden practice swords), be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor. It is awesome. And also as scary as hell.
Comments on comments:
"Pretty much proof positive that the people who claim that skimpy female fantasy armor is for increased maneuverability don’t know what they’re talking about."
They know exactly what they’re talking about. They want to see T&A on fantasy game and book covers, and since they don’t have the balls to be honest about it, this is their excuse.
“It amazes me that the old saws about Western armour and techniques are still going about, because surely two minutes’ thought would let you know that of course knights had to be able to get up off the ground… Europeans were wearing armour for centuries, why wouldn’t they develop techniques of fighting in it?”
It’s easier to laugh (do the same people laugh about samurai?) and repeat what “everyone knows about armour" than it is to waste that two minutes thought. Thinking might reveal something to mess with set opinions, and that would be annoying…
“Biggest pet peeve: People commenting on the weight and shape of armour restricting mobility…”
As before - “everybody knows" that European armour is massive and clunky because that’s what "everybody knows.” God forbid they should ever apply the “if it was so useless then why was it used" logic to anything. Because then they might realise that what "everybody knows" is wrong.
I’m going off to (not) hold my breath for a while… :-P
I saw this video in the fascinating special exhibit at Cluny last time we were in Paris. So pleased to be able to have it on tap, because it was most excellent.